Dangers of Leaked Chemical in West Virginia Remain a Disturbing Mystery

At the Waterline


About 300,000 residents of eight counties in West Virginia were told on Thursday not to drink, cook or wash with tap water (but they can still flush it down the toilet or put out a fire with it, officials added — what a relief). About 7,500 gallons of an industrial solvent used to clean coal had seeped from a ruptured holding tank into the Elk River. As of Monday morning, water tests had showed improvement, but the ban is still in place.

One of the most disturbing facts about the story is that the risks to health posed by the chemical, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or MCHM, are poorly understood. Science writer Deborah Blum reports for Wired.com on her frustrating search for information. David Biello sheds some light on the basic properties of the compound, which is a type of alcohol, in Scientific American.

The stories, and the comments…

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